Oral Presentation Session - Executive Session Status Awarded
Sponsored by: AAA Executive Program Committee
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Violence
Secondary Theme: The Political
This panel responds to the conference theme with a series of meditations on courage, caution, and above all cowardice. We know-or at least we think we know-a lot about heroism. The hero's exploits are commemorated in myth, legend, and epic. The work of the hero's other, the coward, is usually communicated in lower literatures. Still, we think we know cowardice when we see it and we're quick to label something an 'act of cowardice' when it fails our deep-seated conceits. But cowardice, perhaps, has its own virtues, and these precisely have to do with "resilience and adaptation," with not playing by the rules, with resisting and circumventing preconceived notions of valor, bravery, manhood, and virtue: 'Discretion is the better part of valor'; 'He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.' Cowardice, we propose, is one of those cultural keywords that purports to describe individual behavior or unacceptable collective action but in reality summons the force of an institutional nexus involving gender, sexuality, collective interests and self-interest, and ideas about legitimate and illegitimate violence. While often associated with military settings and warfare, ideas about cowardice find purchase in many areas of everyday life. In contemporary settings, understandings of cowardice are not infrequently linked to pop-cultural notions of biology, evolution, and genetics. Contributors to this panel will examine how the concept of cowardice plays out in various domains of social life and various fields of study: How might it change the anthropological imagination of the future, and of what it means to be human, to think of cowardice as a productive and creative site rather than a state of failure? How might it change our understanding of venture and gain to take the coward's actions seriously, to think of them holistically? Has cowardice, as much as courage, shaped the species, its forms of violence, its ways of living peacefully? Is it really fear, as opposed to bravado, that enlists many in the service of authoritarian regimes or repressive actions? Might there be not only discretion and reason but also a kind of valor in the subject's fear-response to dangerous situations?